New Urbanism

New Urbanism is more recent than Urban Husbandry, having come into being as a movement in the 1990s rather than the 1960s. Although Peter Calthorpe, one of the movement's most prominent members, has called the New Urbanism an "application of these principles [of urbanism] in suburbia and beyond" (Calthorpe 1994, p. xi), some of New Urbanism's principles are quite different than those of Urban Husbandry.

Within New Urbanism, one can identify two separate points of view. The first, exemplified by Calthorpe, takes more interest in the environmental costs of development. Calthorpe's New Urbanist neighborhoods are "transit-oriented developments" and concentrate on reducing automobile use and intensifying the density of new land development because of the environmental impact of traditional development. (Calthorpe 1993, passim) The second, exemplified by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, concentrates more on the design of communities. Their neighborhoods are "traditional neighborhood developments" and their efforts concentrate on resurrecting the town planning principles exemplified at the beginning of the century and reaffirming the principles of architecture of that time. They are very specific about such items as the materials used for walls and roofs, the configuration of windows and doors, and other architectural details. (Krieger, passim)

However, these different perspectives can be thought of as converging rather than differing. Calthorpe's developments take their physical appearance from the same sources as Duany and Plater-Zyberk's developments, and the latter have recognized the value of regional development and transit in their own plans. (Langdon, p. 122) In discussing New Urbanism here, I generalize from the work of members of both groups.

As indicated, New Urbanists deliberately build in the forms of earlier periods of time. Taking their cue from such architect-planners as Raymond Unwin in Britain and John Nolen in the United States, they aim to revive directly older architectural styles, in accordance with the historic appearance of the regions in which they work. (Langdon, p. 139; Kunstler 1996, p. 115) They draw up strict zoning (land use), building, and landscaping codes that enforce earlier forms of development. It is often called "neo-traditional planning" for this reason.

For New Urbanists, the architecture itself can make or unmake community. Referring to the work of Duany and Plater-Zyberk, but in a way equally applicable to other New Urbanists, William Lennertz writes:

"... design affects behavior. Duany and Plater-Zyberk see the structure and function of a community as interdependent. Because of this, they believe a designers's decisions will permeate the lives of residents not just visually but in the way residents live. They believe design structures functional relationships ... and that it is a sophisticated tool whose power exceeds its cosmetic attributes." (p. 21)

For New Urbanists, designing neighborhoods in a way that is similar to historical towns is likely to create community of the kinds that small towns have had. Neighborhood parks and civic buildings take on special importance, often dubbed the "Commons" or "Town Hall" in an effort to return to the usages of traditional towns.

There are other important principles in the New Urbanism. Traditional architectural forms help to reduce the "crisis of place" brought about by the sameness of suburban development. (Calthorpe 1993, p. 18) A variety of home forms allows for families of different forms than that with a working husband, a housewife, and children. Also, New Urbanists believe that their neighborhoods embody a relationship between nature and humanity that is better than the one endemic to most suburbs. The use of greenbelts around urban regions is an example.

The principles of the New Urbanism are very specifically embodied. Buildings, blocks, streets, districts or neighborhoods, and city-regions are each discussed individually in New Urbanist planning.

The basic unit of New Urbanist planning is the neighborhood. Neighborhoods are very specifically designed in New Urbanism. Each has a clearly defined center and edge, with the edge approximately a quarter mile away from the center. This is so that no place in the neighborhood is more than a five-minute walk to the center. ( Duany and Plater-Zyberk, p. xviii) The center surrounds a public space such as a park or other civic amenity, or a transit stop. (It is not always at the geographical center of the development; the center often borders an arterial road to attract drivers to the commercial development, or it can take advantage of a waterfront or an "engaging view." Calthorpe 1993, p. 56; Duany and Plater-Zyberk, p. xvii.) The edge is to be clearly demarcated to give the residents a clear sense of the neighborhood: "the combination of a focus and a limit contribute to the social identity of the community." ( Duany and Plater-Zyberk, p. xvii)

The New Urbanist neighborhood has a mixture of primary uses: nearly always residence, but also work, retail, worship, and recreation. (Duany and Plater-Zyberk, p. xviii) Building sites and traffic are located on a network of interconnecting streets. This is usually a variant on the rectilinear grid, with breaks and curves but nonetheless every street connected to another so that there are no dead ends or "pods" dependent on a small number of large arterial roads for access.1 The neighborhood is designed with public space in mind from the first and with civic buildings planned beforehand in appropriate locations. (Duany and Plater-Zyberk, p. xvii) The neighborhood also is designed with transit use in mind, for easy accessibility. (Calthorpe 1993, p. 62)

Within the neighborhood, the streets and blocks are organized in a hierarchy of uses and density. Streets are to vary in width depending on their vehicular and pedestrian use. They are to remain usable by both but primarily designed for foot traffic, with generous sidewalks and intersections designed to slow vehicular traffic. Automobile and service access is to be achieved wherever possible from alleys in the center of blocks, allowing the streets for pedestrians; street-facing garages, where they must exist, are to have "significant public faces" on the streets and be designed to be capable of conversion to another use at a future time. (Moule and Polyzoides, pp. xxii-xxiii)

While some buildings in New Urbanism are "monumental" and are free of most formal constraints (they are intended to be landmarks, "points of concentrated social meaning"), most are to fit into plans for the streets and the blocks in which they are found. (Moule and Polyzoides, pp. xxiii - xxiv) The buildings on a street are to relate in size to the width of that street. Mixed primary uses are placed near the center of the neighborhood, with a relatively high concentration of dwellings, offices, and shops. It is especially important to provide retail at the center, making it possible for residents in the surrounding area to satisfy their daily needs without using an automobile. (Duany and Plater-Zyberk, p. xviii) The density drops off somewhat towards the edges, where in most New Urbanist neighborhoods the use tends to be primarily residential.

Duany and Plater-Zyberk (pp. xix - xx) call non-residential neighborhoods "districts." These are more specialized than most New Urbanist neighborhoods, with emphases on manufacturing, retail, or large institutions such as colleges or state capitals -- but with some other uses mixed in, and so not as specialized as typical suburban office parks or shopping malls.

As residence is the primary use of suburbs, and New Urbanism is concerned with rebuilding the suburbs, residential uses have been given special priority. In residential buildings, such building features as front porches and garages in the rear of buildings (where alleys are not feasible, driveways are to be built at the side of the house and de-emphasized from the street; this is in contrast to typical suburban tract homes, which often make the garage the most visible portion of the building) are mandated. (Calthorpe 1993, p. 86)

Variety in residential construction is also suggested. Unlike most suburban developments which have exclusively single-family homes or large apartment buildings, in New Urbanist developments there is a mix of units: duplexes, "stacked flats" (two-story houses with one dwelling unit above the other), small apartment buildings, and single-family homes with in-law apartments over a rear garage. These allow a mix of family types and incomes to share a neighborhood; as residents change status (marry, have children, divorce, have their children leave home) they can find an appropriate home in the same neighborhood, retaining community ties. (Bressi, p. xxx)

These neighborhoods fit into larger plans for the town and the region. Within towns, neighborhoods are connected by arterial roadways with bus service, and by commuter or light rail lines. The edges of the neighborhoods are usually defined by a park, a nature preserve, or a lake or other water feature. In urban areas, elements of the transportation infrastructure such as freeways or major rail corridors form the edges of New Urbanist neighborhoods. (Duany and Plater-Zyberk, pp. xviii-xx)

Peter Calthorpe has surrounded his New Urbanist neighborhoods with "Secondary Areas" that resemble typical suburban construction. These can be areas of low-density residential use, with some concessions towards New Urbanist principles, such as a connected street pattern and occasionally a mixture of housing types. Or, these areas can contain low-density but large-scale employment, such as warehousing or light industry, that would require more room than that available in the smaller blocks and street grid of a New Urbanist neighborhood. (Calthorpe 1993, pp. 87-89; Langdon, p. 166.) To some extent, this is also to cope with current development norms: "if American business insists on horizontal, large-square-footage industrial and office buidlings, it's often futile to refuse them." (Langdon, p. 191)

1. Patrick Pinnell (p. 106) finds the street plans of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk not like the plain grids of Thomas Jefferson's Northwest Ordinance but "more like ... what¹s left, after the last breakfast bowlful, at the bottom of a Rice Chex box."

The Formation of Sprawl
Urban Husbandry
New Urbanism
Similarities and Differences

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